Handy Stations receive town funding in Brattleboro

Kevin O'Keefe uses a Handy Station during the unveiling outside of The Void, on Main Street, in Brattleboro, Vt., on Thursday, June 18, 2020.

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BRATTLEBORO — Handy Stations — a blend of promoting public safety with art and supporting local businesses — received funding from the town as the community comes up with creative ways to approach the coronavirus pandemic.

During a special meeting Tuesday, the Select Board authorized spending $3,600 to sponsor three stations. Erin Maile O'Keefe of the Human Connection Project described Handy Stations as "locally produced hand-sanitizing stations" she designed to highlight artists.

"They are intended to basically say: Our downtown is open for business," she said. "We're centering artists and partnering with local businesses and with some local artisans and engineers to create motion-sensor hand-sanitizing stations that also have a musical component."

O'Keefe noted many local artists are affected by the pandemic, having gone without work. She said materials also will be purchased locally.

Musicians are being asked to create 20-second original jingles that will be triggered when a user of the station presses a button. Artists are making backdrops, using six public safety instructions developed by the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance. A website is being developed with a map showing where each station can be found.

Businesses will not pay for the stations, which cost $1,200 each to sponsor. But they will be responsible for replenishing hand sanitizer, general upkeep and bringing the stations inside at night.

The hope is to have 15 stations set up at businesses and O'Keefe is looking to secure grant funding for the stations. The town's contribution could help show there is community support for the project, said Select Board Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth McLoughlin.

DBA board member Annie Richards said the project fits the mission of her group in terms of supporting businesses trying to make a comeback and highlighting downtown's unique character. The DBA is anticipated to help with implementation.

Board member Daniel Quipp said he likes the visuals of the first prototype set up at The Void and the public health component of the project. But he questioned the necessity of the jingles and the potential to irritate those constantly hearing the music.

Originally, O'Keefe envisioned a hand-washing station hence the 20-second jingle, the recommended time health officials advise.

"It's true you don't have to sanitize your hands for a full 20 seconds but you do have to be a lot more thorough than a lot of people are," she said. "There is a public safety component of at least extending the time."

She called the musical component "pretty central to the uniqueness of this as street art" and said removing it would not significantly reduce the price tag.

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Responding to Quipp's question about which artists are being approached to participate, O'Keefe said she has been in conversations with Out in the Open, an LGBTQ group based in Brattleboro. When funds are secured, she said she planned to reach out to local social justice groups to ensure Black, Indigenous and people of color are included.

Local musician Peter Siegel was tapped as music director for the project. O'Keefe said one potential sponsor expressed interest in having a station outside the Boys & Girls Club and a local teacher offered to teach a free class to youth to create motion sensor hand sanitizer dispensers.

Board Chairman Tim Wessel said the town might not traditionally fund a project of this kind.

"But we're not in a traditional time right now," he said, applauding how money would go back to local residents.

He compared the project to parklets the town funded in early June. Jersey barriers were purchased so that restaurants and bars temporarily could allow outdoor service in spaces previously used for parking.

Quipp and Select Board member Ian Goodnow said they still had "a bitter taste" in their mouths from the parklets. Three businesses ended up backing out and others have not been set up yet.

"I feel like we were told lots of businesses are excited to have these parklets and actually that really has not been what the experience has been," Quipp said.

O'Keefe said she could provide a list of businesses interested in the Handy Stations when DBA Executive Director Stephanie Bonin returns to town.

McLoughlin suggested putting one of the three stations funded by the town in front of Brooks Memorial Library. That was included in the motion to sponsor three stations and unanimously approved by the board.

Select Board member Brandie Starr described the project as good for Brattleboro as it promotes public safety and the town is known to stand behind creativity in the community.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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